Favoring the tried-and-true over trends
By Fritz Hahn
Friday, Aug 05, 2011
Will Number Nine be the lucky number three?
Number Nine, a gay lounge that opened in May in the spot formerly occupied by Halo and Mova, may have more staying power than the previous occupants, thanks to a comfortably upscale design and one of the best happy hours in Washington, which offers two-for-one drinks nightly until 9 p.m.
The lounge represents a return to P Street for Ed Bailey and John Guggenmos - it's their ninth project together - who opened Halo in 2004. They left in 2007 to open Town Dance boutique, and Halo eventually became Mova, until it closed last year.
But where Halo and Mova were trend-driven and over-designed (how would Halo's mod white ottomans and glowing orange LED panels look in 2011?), Number Nine goes the other direction. The large circular booths with chandeliers overhead, the focus on seating over standing room and the sturdy marble bar are in the vein of a traditional hotel lounge instead of a Design Within Reach catalog. It's a little more staid and less attention-grabbing than previous occupants even if the materials - old wood and richer fabrics - are of higher quality. Prediction: A few months from now, spots by the marble fireplace upstairs will be at a premium.
What's immediately noticeable, though, are the crowds. Wednesday nights are elbow-to-elbow, Fridays can be even more difficult to negotiate. (There are only two pub-size rooms here, one on each floor.) The established mix of tanned gym bunnies, guys in the tank top/skinny jeans/flip-flops uniform, suits and silver foxes predominate, though the shifts in neighborhood demographics mean there are more women and straight couples than in the old days, when Halo was solely a gay destination.
The scene: While other bars constantly change things up with theme nights, DJs and drink specials, every night at Number Nine is guaranteed: No dress codes. No variable deals. Just a solid soundtrack of electronic music and happy hour that starts at 5 and runs until 9. "It's something people don't have to think about," Bailey explains. "Not 'What night is it tonight?' 'What are the different specials?'"
It's not as if anyone's missing out, though, because that nightly happy hour is basically the model for how happy hours should be run. Every drink in the place, whether a $5 bottle of beer or fancy $11 mojito muddled with fresh fruit, is included, instead of just bottom-shelf rail drinks. (Not that Number Nine skimps on liquor anyway; order a gin and tonic or gin gimlet and the bartender reaches for a bottle of Hendrick's as the baseline gin.)
There's one caveat, though: You don't actually receive two drinks at once. When your bartender hands you a martini, he'll also give you a ticket with your name and "Martini" on it. Hold on to this chit: You trade this in for your second drink later.
Another benefit is the late happy hour, which also occurs on weekends. That makes the lounge a rarity in Washington, where the 4-to-7 weeknight happy hour is as regimented as men's suit-and-power-tie wardrobe. It has the distinct advantage of making Number Nine a Swiss Army Knife of bars: a place to meet up after work on Tuesday, grab a pre-dinner cocktail on Friday or stop in on a Saturday night bar crawl before hitting the clubs.
In your glass: Number Nine is the only gay bar I've visited recently with a Martinez or a Sidecar on the menu - or anything approaching an attempt at mixology. Some of the drinks are vaguely familiar from the old Halo days, including a seasonal mojito where blueberries and/or raspberries are muddled with mint in the glass before being topped with club soda. The Berri Cooler adds an acai-infused syrup to vodka, ginger ale and an option of fresh berries; it's appropriately sweet and fizzy. On the other hand, the Lavender Lemon Drop is about what it sounds like: It tastes more like a citrus vodka shot than a martini, despite the presence of lavender-infused syrup.
On your plate: Number Nine doesn't serve food.
Price points: Cocktails cost between $8 and $11. Beers are $5-$6. There is no cover charge.